Braeriach high camp. October 2012.

Date: Saturday/Sunday 20th/21st October 2012
Distance: 17km + 19.2km
Ascent: 1100m + 400m

Another week watching the forecasts – calm weather forecast but the areas with best chance of sun seemed to vary day to day. Plumped for the Cairngorms with variable results.

Braeriach is a deceptive hill – from Aviemore it looks reasonably close – in reality it’s just big and reasonably far away.

The SMC red route goes from the Sugar Bowl car park through the Chalamain Gap and up Sron na Lairig (alternatively starting at the W end of Loch Morlich). Other approaches include Gleann Einich via either a ridge of the Northern Corries or Coire Dhondail or Glen Feshie via the Moine Mhor.

On the last day of Stag stalking we noted that there’s recognised access along Gleann Einich and up Coire Dhondail so we thought we’d try that, given an 8 year hiatus since our last use of this approach.

We set of late – 1130 – from Coylumbridge. The walk in via Whitewell takes you through Caley pines and birchwoods. We’d be happy to wander round here all day.

The view from Whitewell is worth pausing to admire – the bowl of forest lapping up against the Northern Gorms.

The track then carries on south into Gleann Einich, initially through more pinewoods and then on into open glen. Paused a while to watch the birds – Coal, Great and Crested Tits were working through the Caley Pines.

Clouds on the Meall a Buachaille ridge over pines:

Thereafter Gleann Einich opens out into a broad, flat glen – a huge glacial trench. The track is reasonable foot quality and progress is rapid down the glen. Passed an estate Landie, presumably the stalkers were elsewhere. Views to the cliffs of Sgoran Dubh Mor and Sgor Gaoith are impressive.

The Coire Dhondail track is obvious, starting at a ruined shieling. It runs quickly uphill into Coire Dhondail.

All of the Northern Coires of Braeriach appear as scallops up from about 800m elevation, presumably the origins of the glaciation of the time, sat next to the huge Einich gouge.

Emerged out of Coire Dhondail to look out over Moine Mhor – a bit of a grey scene.

We wandered up hill to reach the Braeriach summit plateau – we’ve camped up there previously.

Not to be on this occasion – the summit was clagged and showed little sign of clearing. Dropped from Einich Cairn about 150m in height to find a pitch a bit lower at around 1100m elevation at NN 930 983.

Overflown by a pair of Golden Eagles – perhaps they thought there was gralloch to be had. Not too long after they’d sailed by a flock of around 15 ptarmigan whistled overhead in the opposite direction – didn’t like the company obviously.

Glad to get into the tent and the warmth.

Sunset was a muted affair.

Got up a few hours after sunset – a bit of a starscape to be seen – parts of Aviemore visible.

Slept pretty well – milder than expected and little wind. An occasional ptarmigan gargled after 0500 but other than that peace and quiet.

Up for dawn (a long lie to 0800) – still not the best of conditions.

Packed up the tent after an unhurried breakfast. Sun still trying to get above Braeriach.

Our first fieldfares of the year flew over making their mad giggling noise.

We’d not been sure what we’d do – return direct or go via Sgor Gaoith or Braeriach. In the end we decided to go across Braeriach and try out a different return route.

Into the sun within 10 minutes of uphill:

Quickly back up to Einich Cairn – a different atmosphere with a bit of sun. Could see Lochnagar to the SE.

Scoped out by a few ravens – they always seem to pop up and take a look. There were ptarmigan and hare prints here and there in the snow. The ptarmigan seem to have dug down to the vegetation at this point:

Headed across the Wells of Dee to the clifflines of the SW side of Braeriach. Unlike the bigger upland plateau on the E of Lairig Ghru, Braeriach is a relatively small plateau nibbled on nearly all sides by huge-cliffed coires (a fact that whispers in your ear if you ever cross it in a whiteout).

Cliffs over Garbh Coire:

Across to Lochan Uaine:


Followed the Southern cliff line towards the summit – with summit cloud building and blowing through.

Already a few folks about – 1 guy with a camping pack behind us and a few others arriving from Sron na Lairig.

By the time we got to the summit it was misted up – but still a bit atmospheric.

Carried on to pick up the red route down to Sron na Lairig – the southern cliffs provide a reliable handrail (not one to be leaned on 😉 ).

We got down to Sron na Lairig and then headed for the 1080m top to take a line down the NW ridge of this back towards Meall a Pris-ghuithais and Gleann Einich.

Lurcher’s Crag from Sron na Lairig descent:

This worked rather well – quiet again but excellent underfoot terrain with very short scrub all the way to within about 750m of the track top at NH 935 027.

Saw a few ptarmigan along the way:

The view back:

Loch Einich and Sgor Gaoith:

The whole descent was in pleasant sunshine. Once back at Gleann Einich it was a simple wander 2 hours back to the car. Stopped on a number of occasions to watch little birds. Spotted a single Highland Darter – too fast to snap but a welcome echo of summer.

Some brighter lighting for the views back from Whitewell:

I really like the Einich/Northern Coires routes to Braeriach – quiet and little-utilised. A bit longer than the red route – but particularly for cyclists probably the easiest available.

All in all not the most eye-catching conditions but our first high Cairngorms camping venture in a while. A taste of snow was a welcome appetiser too.

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